ACCA affiliate admonished for cyber harassment
An ACCA affiliate was admonished this month and had to pay costs of £5000 after allegations of harassment were found proved against him.
The accused affiliate, Ravi Juthani, first registered with the ACCA as a student during early 2013. He graduated two years later and became an affiliate, which he remains today.
Juthani applied to become an ACCA affiliate during 2019; whilst completing his application, he was prompted to give full disclosure and declare any previous offences or convictions that would go against the accounting body’s guidelines.
It was then that Juthani disclosed his involvement in the harassment of three other people, for which he was convicted during 2011.
The ACCA disciplinary report states that between April and May 2011, whilst studying at Nottingham University, Juthani was found guilty of harassing a woman (Person A). He was sending explicit emails, photographs, and demands via Facebook and Hotmail.
At the same time, Juthani was found to be harassing another woman (Person B), via similar digital medias. He sent Person B numerous emails and explicit photographs, in the knowledge that his behaviour amounted to direct harassment.
Between March and May of the same year, Juthani was proven to be harassing another woman (Person C). This again involved digital harassment via email.
Each of these convictions go against the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
As well as this, the report states that between March and May 2011 Juthani "caused a computer to perform a function with intent to secure unauthorised access to data". This is contrary to the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
As Juthani failed to inform the ACCA of these convictions when he initially registered as a student, the disciplinary committee proposed him to be guilty of misconduct pursuant to the association’s byelaws.
Juthani admitted that the facts of the various allegations were true, thereby proving them by virtue of his admissions.
However, he did not admit misconduct in regards to his failure to inform the ACCA of these convictions when he initially registered.
The committee accepted Juthani's argument that he was unaware of his duty to report previous convictions when applying for student membership.
In the absence of any deliberate non-disclosure, the report states that the committee concluded that Juthani was not guilty of misconduct as proposed.
For the same reasons, the accused was therefore not liable to any disciplinary action.
The report states that the committee deliberated on what sanction, if any, to give to Juthani. They considered that it would not be in the best public interest to take no action whatsoever, given the seriousness of the convictions that were proven true.
There was also the loss of opportunity for the ACCA to properly assess Juthani’s student eligibility during 2013 to consider in the proceedings.
The report states that Juthani “demonstrated substantial remorse and remediation”, and has not had any further convictions since those which he admitted to.
They therefore decided that an admonishment was a “sufficient and proportionate sanction” in this case.
Juthani was charged costs of £5000, which he accepted. The Committee reportedly did not deem it necessary to make any immediate orders.
Matthew Corrie, consultant to Blake Morgan LLP, comments:
Chris Cope represented Mr Juthani before ACCA's disciplinary committee.
Mr Juthnai faced an allegation of failing to disclose his previous convictions when applying to become a student in 2013. It was successfully argued that Mr Juthani was not guilty of misconduct because there was some ambiguity on the application form as to what was to be declared.
In regard to the convictions Mr Juthani, who had self-referred these matters whilst applying to become a member of ACCA upon the completion of his exams in 2019, accepted that these amounted to misconduct. Mr Juthani agreed that his actions would bring himself, the ACCA and the profession into disrepute.
The sanctions available to the disciplinary committee were: no further action; admonishment; reprimand; severe reprimand; removal from the affiliate register.
However, it was successfully argued that the matter could be disposed of by way of an admonishment taking into account that: Mr Juthani's conduct had taken place a considerable time ago; Mr Juthani greatly regretted, was remorseful for and ashamed of his actions and in the subsequent years had passed his accountancy exams and matured such that he presented as a different person.
Given the seriousness of the conduct underlying the allegations this sanction can be considered a successful outcome for Mr Juthani but also illustrates a good example of ACCA's disciplinary committee acting in a fair and proportionate manner.
Moreover, the case highlights the importance both for regulators to make clear exactly what matters are required to be declared and for applicants and members to ensure they understand what declarations they must make.
It is worth noting that since Mr Juthani's application in 2013, ACCA's application form for membership has been amended to require a declaration that the applicant has: 'not been subject to any criminal conviction and/or caution'; 'not been disciplined by any professional body and/or regulator'; and 'not been subject to any other matters which may engage Byelaw 8 that have not already been brought to the attention of ACCA’s Assessment or Investigations Department in writing.'
This updated declaration leaves the applicant in no doubt as to the need to declare any convictions, cautions, disciplinary findings or any other matters which may engage Byelaw 8 and the consequences of any failure to declare such matters. However, experience shows that applicants can still be unsure as to whether a matter should be declared, and if so it may be worth seeking legal advice before submitting any application.
Should accountants require advice or representation please feel free to get in touch with Chris Cope, Matthew Corrie or Samantha Hatt.